Boyden Executive Search

Millers Oils offers vast opportunities, an equal voice and shares in the business. Manufacturing has never looked so good.

By Claire Lauder
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Lauder: Technology is changing and influencing the skills required in the workforce. How are you dealing with that at Millers Oils?

CockingWhat we make at Millers is a high-tech product in terms of the technical knowledge that goes into it, so as technology comes along, we have to bring in new skills and identify where the gaps are. We encourage our staff to identify their own training needs as well.

Ward: Lubricants is incredibly complicated. There are so many applications and different grades with each application.

Cocking: There’s a lot of regulation too. And the manufacturers we supply dictate what can and can’t go into the products, so it’s constantly changing. It’s an easy process to make a lubricant but very difficult and complicated to decide what goes into it. That’s the magic.


Steven Cocking
CEO, Miller Oils Group

Lauder: What new markets have you identified?

Cocking: The obvious one is electric vehicles that will require a different type of lubricant, so we have to monitor that space.

Ward: Then there are processor oils that go into product to make plastic for example. So you have lubricants for machines, agriculture and commercial vehicles. There is a whole raft of opportunity and the biggest challenge for us is identifying the area where we should concentrate. The market is huge.

Lauder: How has digital transformation and ecommerce affected your business?

Ward: I can see the logic of manufacturers wanting to sell direct to the end customer through digital channels. But the issue for us, and for a lot of SMEs, is the sheer volume of customers you would have to be in contact with. In automotive for example, there are 34 million vehicles on the road. We would have to be the size of Amazon to cater to every customer we could potentially reach.

Cocking: So our preferred channel is the telephone for direct customer contact. A lot of our business is built on relationships and with ecommerce you lose that because it becomes price driven.  Our nearest competitors are Castrol, Total, Fuchs; huge, well-known, multi-million global companies. They work to a different scale, so as a low volume, high value supplier, our focus is on value add.

Lauder: Millers Oils has a lot of female executives. Do you benefit from a finding in our research – that women have greater communication and collaboration skills?

Cocking: Diversity isn’t a factor for me. Everything is on merit, so I don’t even think about gender when we are interviewing. When I joined the company there were a lot of women in senior management positions and that hasn’t changed so we are probably at the other end of the scale.

Ward: What I like is that while women have traditionally been in HR roles, at Millers we have senior women in operations, purchasing, sales and exports.

Cocking: And when we are hiring, we know we will get women coming forward because we always advertise internally. For example, our quality manager started on the shop floor and our purchasing manager was in general admin.

“Just as we innovate on product, so we innovate on people. We have had quite a few men take paternity leave”

Ward: Promoting internally is really important because it underlines what we say when people join us; ‘You have got massive potential, this company has so many things you could be doing and if you want to develop, this is a great place to do it’.

CockingOur approach to people is about empowerment, added value and innovation. Just as we innovate on product, so we innovate on people. We have had quite a few men take paternity leave. And we have a share plan for employees, which is unusual for a company of our size.

Ward: Also, anybody in the business can come forward with ideas, and they do.

Lauder: You welcome ideas from anywhere in the company. What was the latest great idea?

Cocking: As a relatively small company, storing raw material is a challenge for us. So an idea came up to get an ISO tank, which sits on the back of a wagon and we use that as a semi-fixed tank. That came out of people in production and procurement working together to solve this issue – they may not have come up with it if they didn’t feel they owned the business.

Ward: Our people are very sensitive about Millers, they feel it is their business. There is very much the attitude, ‘This is my Millers’ particularly due to tenure: our people have a combined tenure of seven hundred years!

“I also feel a massive responsibility to make this work. I am the first non-Miller Chair, the first female non-Miller Chair, I’m not from Yorkshire and we have ninety families in this town depending on the company”

Lauder: As a leadership team, what would you say are your shared values?

Cocking: The success of the company is what I’m looking for. My job is not a stepping-stone to something else and other colleagues feel the same.

Ward: People love working at Millers, the way it’s run and their colleagues. We have a set of moral standards and we don’t compromise. If a subject is sensitive or difficult, the same question always comes up, ‘Are we doing the right thing?’.

I also feel a massive responsibility to make this work. I am the first non-Miller Chair, the first female non-Miller Chair, I’m not from Yorkshire and we have ninety families in this town depending on the company. We can’t afford to let them down, so we have to make sure we preserve the company.

Lauder: What impact do you think technology will have on your workforce in future?

Ward: In the next ten years there will unavoidably be a group of people that don’t have the right skills. Over time this will change, because the education side will have to catch up. Even now, some school leavers can’t manipulate an excel sheet. We will end up with people being employed, but in a very different sort of way, It won’t be like it is now.

Lauder: How do you sum up Millers today, for university graduates considering industry?

“Recruitment is our biggest challenge – recruiting people with the right skills and mindset. Everyone is here on merit and there are vast opportunities”

Cocking: Recruitment is our biggest challenge – recruiting people with the right skills and mindset. Everyone is here on merit and there are vast opportunities. We identify people for future senior management, helping them skill up along the way so they are ready.

Ward: There are some habits that are not helping the young generation. Wearing headphones and looking at a screen is really bad for engineers because they need to collaborate. They also need to socialise, use the phone more than email and engage with colleagues. From our side, I also think we need to be careful about wage levels because you have to reward someone fairly. There are huge numbers of companies paying wages people just can’t live on.

CockingWe never knowingly underpay. We also have a staff bonus scheme with ten percent of profits distributed evenly among all staff.

Ward: We have done this for at least ten years, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable with a bonus scheme for directors and managers and nothing for the rest of the staff. That’s unacceptable, but lots of companies do it.

Lauder: And what’s ahead for you in the company?

Cocking: Profitable growth and value-added services.

Ward: Yes, profitable growth mostly in exports. And we are servicing our customers’ machines more, changing the oils and lubricants and testing everything. With oil it is a bit like taking a blood test. We know if there is a problem within the machine anywhere just from the way the lubricants react. We are growing new markets and exports are up from thirteen to over twenty percent. We recently acquired a company in fuel additives, which is a great value added product. We are also working with other companies and end-user companies on their lubricant requirements in electric vehicles. So we are diversifying the product base for the future. As we said, there is a whole raft of opportunity here.


For more information about Millers Oils Ltd, please visit: https://www.linkedin.com/company/millers-oils-ltd/

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